Theatre Review - CUT by Duncan Graham - The Vaults, London

Hannah Norris in CUT by Duncan Graham

After runs in Edinburgh and Australia (Winner of Best Theatre Award at Adelaide Fringe 2015 and the Underbelly Adelaide Award 2015), CUT makes its London debut as part of London Wonderground at The Vaults.

Written and directed by Duncan Graham, CUT is inspired by the Greek Fates; three women who control the metaphorical thread of life from birth to death. As we enter the shrink wrapped space, we are welcomed by an air hostess (Hannah Norris). With her professionally fixed grin, she guides us to our seats, set out (semi) airline style facing each other across a gangway that will become the performance space. She warns us that there will be complete darkness (phones completely off please, and anyone with glowing watches are asked to remove them). We are told that if at any point we want to leave, we are to wait for light, put our hand up and say ‘Cut’, at which point we will be escorted out, but (ominously) can never return.

The piece itself deals with anxiety, fear and the male gaze – specifically the gaze of a man with ‘eyes of ash’. The air hostess (she believes) is being stalked. He appears on the plane amongst the sleeping passengers (the ‘cargo of dreams’). He refuses to acknowledge her as he leaves the plane, but then follows her on to the travellator, on the train, to her house. He appears and disappears through darkened windows or as she describes them black mirrors (lights off, him; lights on, you; off, him; on, you). We jump cut between her professional façade of pleasantries, and her private, anxiety-riddled stream-of-consciousness. She attempts to maintain normality by taking time in her morning routine, layering on make-up, presenting ‘face upon face upon face’. Her inner world becomes increasingly dysregulated – her flashbacks to her role in the torture of a fish by a boy called Donald, her fantasies about the woman with the scissors (a reference to Atropos, the ‘cutter of the thread of life’). She finally relives an attack in her home, by the man with ashen eyes who tells her ‘I’m such a normal person’, but we are never really clear how much of this is real and how much is fantasy/nightmare/hallucination.

Technical Director and Lighting Designer, Sam Hopkins, does a sterling job at making sense of the disjointed narrative, using lighting changes and blackouts to signify time shifts and mental states. The sound design by Russell Goldsmith also provides a sound bed throughout which helps to demonstrate her constant psychological white-noise and ratchets up the tension nicely. The intersection between theatre, immersive design and performance art is an interesting choice, and is consummately handled by performer Hannah Norris. The technical challenges of negotiating the space in blackout (which really is COMPLETELY black and therefore extremely disorientating) are not insignificant, and it is a credit to Norris that one always feels that in her performance she is entirely in the moment, despite so much else to consider.

There are moments of genuine hackle-rising tension and the piece goes some way to making us feel the anxiety that women can often feel in public spaces – the calibration of the male gaze, the fear of sexual harassment, of assault - without it being explicitly spelt out for us. However, the script felt lacking in emotional depth – tension and creepiness alone are not enough to hold your attention and it felt that an opportunity to unpick the psychology of this women (women?) further had been missed. The tone of the piece is hit on very early on i.e. that of thriller, film noir and modern gothic, but it does little progress and built on this. The disjointed nature of the text, while working in the production’s favour at some points, is overall a too disorderly and generalised for us to really engage with the material, despite the best efforts of Hannah Norris. Ultimately (and ironically) the show, which is inspired by mythology about the spinning, weaving and cutting of the thread of life, lacks a sufficiently strong one to bind us sufficiently to the story.

(c) 2016 Madelaine Moore

Dates: 5th - 31st July
The Vaults, Launcelot Street, London, SE1 7AD
Reviewed on 6.7.17


Performed by Hannah Norris
Written and Directed by Duncan Graham
Technical Direction and Lighting Design by Sam Hopkins
Sound Design by Russell Goldsmith

Photograph courtesy of Gary Cockburn (c) 2015

Author's review: